French/Swiss collective PAS Musique prides itself on defying convention. Inspired by negation and the avant-garde, the quartet produces music that is difficult to classify, touching upon multiple genres at once. And yet, despite the band’s claim that their music lacks “clearly defined melodies and structural landmarks”, these are indeed abundant on Abandoned Bird Egg, which is why it works so well. Wisps and whorls serve as points of access. These include at various times: a clear synth tempo that preserves the b.p.m. for an entire track; a recurrent swath of 80s dancefloor; and a clear, anchoring voiceover. Without such access points, the album might sound like a toss of the I Ching instead of an intentional collage. There’s a fine line between contrarianism and curious experimentalism, and PAS Musique knows exactly how far to go without crossing that line. Abandoned Bird Egg is an easier listen than one might imagine because it comes across as both familiar and unfamiliar, like a foreign world hidden in a closet or beneath a hutch.
“Commercial Space” is a perfect summary of the album’s appeal. Beginning with what seems like a call to prayer and a series of synthetic abstractions, it soon develops a pulse akin to that of classic Nitzer Ebb. Dark murmurings abound, traveling between the speakers; a drumbeat emerges, joined by a guitar that wanders far afield, seemingly disinterested in what the other instruments are doing. Despite the title, it’s not commercial at all, but neither is it impenetrable.
The use of dialogue samples in “Something Indescribable” also recalls that of mid-period industrial acts such as Gracious Shades (“I Heard a Wise Man Say”). The lyrics – “I found a way of life that was indescribable … they believe that this life is not the end” – imply the striving of the soul. The quartet calls the album a commentary on “the forgotten relation to nature and to the internal self”, and such words underline the point. When eastern dub influences and ritualistic percussion are folded into the mix, the album brings to mind the recent western fascination with meditative spiritual faith. On the other hand, when the quartet follows a track titled “Modern Witchcraft” with the bleating of a lamb, one wonders just how ancient their references may be.
The album’s deep center draws the listener into a contemplative trance; even when one focuses on the beats, one’s imagination is prodded by the unusual sounds scattered throughout the recording: hand-held bells, meandering bass, light wails. A Hindi sample in the closing track solidifies the impression that something is happening just beyond the consciousness; PAS Musique reflects this mystery in its music, building an invisible bridge between matter and the spirit. (Richard Allen)